February 6, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Construction workers took to the streets of East New York this week to protest the proliferation of junk jobs associated with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build or preserve 200,000 new units of affordable housing over the next decade.
Union members turned out in force at the corner of Liberty and New Jersey avenues a day after hizzoner delivered his State of the City address at Baruch College. In the speech, Mayor de Blasio said that the best way to tackle income inequality is to raise people’s wages.
But those rallying in East New York complained that non-unionized construction workers throughout the city are getting shortchanged daily.
“We are in favor of any type of construction – specifically affordable housing – New York needs it.,” Ruben Colon, an organizer with New York District Council of Carpenters told LaborPress. “But we also need that to come with a concession with regard to good jobs. Often times, you have poverty wages paid on these job sites, and nobody is being held accountable for that – careers versus jobs, that’s what it comes down to.”
Barrie Smith, business agent, Local 79, expressed his concern that lifelong residents of East New York like him will soon be priced out of the neighborhood once new construction in the area begins.
“In order for [developers] to come in here, we need affordable housing that’s going to fit all ranges of income,” Smith told LaborPress. “We want to make sure that the people of East New York are not kicked out.”
When asked if he thought the mayor’s affordable housing plan is failing to directly address income inequality because of the kinds of non-union, low-wage jobs it is likely to generate – Smith said that Mayor de Blasio “may be trying to do as much as he can do in his realm, but we as a people need more career oriented jobs.”
Non-unionized construction sites around the city not only pay paltry wages, offer non-existent benefits and are sometimes guilty of outright wage theft – they’re also dangerous.
“Workers are being maimed, injured, and even killed on some of these jobs sites for a poverty wage,” Colon said.”On top of that, the very workers that build this housing can’t afford to live there.”
Marchers called on the mayor to ensure that at least half of the new housing slated for East New York is actually affordable to those who live and work there.
"This rally is about affordable housing and career-oriented jobs,” Smith said. “We’re here to make sure that no one is displaced.”
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.